Preschool Education

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					Pre-School Education

     Providing Inspection Services for

            Department of Education
            Department for Employment and Learning
            Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure


143.        During 2005-06, revised procedures for all pre-school inspections were introduced,
            shortening the period of notification, reducing the preparation required by leaders and
            completing the inspection process more quickly. Questionnaires for members of staff
            and management groups were included to complement those already available for

144.        Following the publication of the outcomes of the Review of Pre-school Education in
            Northern Ireland, DE has stated its intention to raise the admission age in the
            statutory nursery sector to three years and two months and to remove reception
            provision in primary schools. Additional pre-school places are to be provided in areas
            where there are shortfalls. While these changes will present challenges for some
            schools, the aims to create better quality provision for young children are to be
            Further evaluation of enrolment trends and sustainability is contained in Part 1 of this
            report, Additional Challenges: Demographics and Sustainability

145.        A number of planned initiatives provide major opportunities for developing new and
            improved early years services. The announced transfer of early years responsibilities
            from DHSSPS to DE has the potential to stimulate a more integrated policy for the
            education, care and development of young children and to address unresolved issues
            raised through the Review of Pre-school Education. The funding for extended
            schools through the Children and Young People Funding Package (CYPFP) should
            encourage schools to work together, and with other providers, to create better
            services for children and families in disadvantaged areas. Additional funding through
            Sure Start to develop appropriate provision for two year olds holds out the prospect of
            more effective early intervention to enable children to thrive and succeed.

    The term pre-school centre is used to describe statutory nursery schools and classes, and DE-funded voluntary and
    private pre-school provision.

                                                                              The Chief Inspector’s Report 2004-06
    Pre-School Education

    146.      All of these initiatives will need to be carefully planned and monitored, with good
              strategic oversight and willingness for genuine partnership. Such planning and
              co-operation are essential to ensure the best results and avoid over-provision or the
              displacement of existing good quality settings.

    147.      What are the main strengths in pre-school education?

              The main strengths are:

                     the overall good or very good provision in over half of all pre-school centres;

                     the sense of commitment and dedication among leaders and staff to meeting
                     the needs of young children and their families;

                     the warm and caring environment created in almost all centres and the staff’s
                     ability to foster the children’s self-confidence and co-operative behaviour;

                     the high level of attention given to the children’s protection and welfare;

                     the valuable information prepared for parents and the centres’ efforts to
                     encourage them to contribute to their children’s learning;
                     the breadth of the learning programme; and

                     the development of the children’s language, awareness of the environment and
                     personal, social and emotional development.

    148.      What improvements have been brought about during the period 2004-06?

              Improvements are evident in:

                     the steady increase in the quality of the teaching involving sustained support
                     for the development of the children’s language and thinking during play

                     the staff’s understanding of procedures for pastoral care and child protection
                     and the development of comprehensive policies and information for parents;

                     the provision of more imaginative opportunities for exploration and learning
                     related to early science;

                     the development of more systematic assessment methods based on
                     observations of the activities and the children’s progress;
             the increased range and quality of the resources; and

             the more frequent provision of outdoor play opportunities.

149.   What further improvements are needed?

       The main actions needed to bring about further improvement are:

             developing further the methods for curriculum planning to take account of the
             assessment information and to guide the staff in supporting individual children
             to make good progress throughout the year;

             making more systematic and well-planned provision for the children’s physical
             development through energetic play;

             providing more imaginative opportunities for developing early mathematical
             ideas and creativity, particularly through music;

             increasing the provision, and use, of ICT and on-line facilities;

             developing further the processes of self-evaluation and self-improvement; and

             ensuring better provision overall for children with special educational needs,               3
             including the provision of training, resources, and support, particularly for the
             voluntary/private sector.

What is the overall quality of pre-school education?

       Figure 14: The overall quality of provision in all types of pre-school centres
       2002-04 and 2004-06


                              52%                       36%                12% 1%

                              53%                            42%                 5%

                    Grade 1         Grade 2        Grade 3             Grade 4

                                                                   The Chief Inspector’s Report 2004-06
    Pre-School Education

                Figure 15: The quality of provision in statutory nurseries and
                voluntary/private pre-school centres 2002-04 and 2004-06

                       Voluntary/private pre-school centres

                                        50%                       35%               14% 1%
                       Nursery schools and classes

                       2004-06             53%                           45%               2%
                       Voluntary/private pre-school centres

                                       46%                         48%                 6%
                       Nursery schools and classes

                                               66%                         30%             4%

                                Grade 1              Grade 2   Grade 3           Grade 4

    150.      The standards of pre-school educational provision continues to improve overall
              across both the statutory and the voluntary/private sectors. The percentage of
              statutory nurseries where the overall effectiveness is good or very good has risen to
              66%. In the voluntary/private sector, 94% of centres provide satisfactory or better
              educational experiences and there are clear improvements in the decreasing
              proportion where shortcomings outweigh strengths.

    151.      Following rapid gains in quality in previous years, the percentage of voluntary/private
              provision that is good or very good has decreased slightly. Inspections show that
              some contributory factors include a rapid turnover of staff, especially of those in
              leadership roles, and inconsistent guidance and support from a qualified teacher or
              early years specialist. In some centres, financial difficulties mean that the staff have
              to put much effort into raising funds to cover essentials, such as rent and wages.
              Particularly where centres have small numbers of funded children, the lack of job
              security and the additional burdens of fund-raising can limit the development of high
              quality provision.

    152.      In one-third of statutory nurseries, and nearly half of voluntary/private centres, where
              overall effectiveness is at a satisfactory level, the management and staff need to work
              harder to raise standards further. The outstanding practice evident in some centres
              across both sectors provides examples of excellence that should inform more widely
              the work of others.
        Figure 16: Overview of the quality of pre-school education 2004-06
               Overall Effectiveness

                                  53%                                  42%                   5%

                                  54%                                  40%                   6%

                                   56%                                 38%                   6%

                       35%                             46%                           19%

                                  55%                              35%                  10%

                                       64%                                   32%             4%

                                51%                               40%                     8%1%
               Special Educational Needs

                           34%                         46%                          20%       1%                5
                       Grade 1               Grade 2         Grade 3               Grade 4

How good is the ethos in pre-school centres?

153.   The provision for pastoral care and child protection continues to improve with good or
       very good arrangements in nearly 70% of centres. Areas for improvement are mainly
       related to the provision of information to parents and the development of codes of
       conduct for the personal care of young children. In almost all centres, supportive
       relationships and a welcoming, family environment are evident. In most centres, the
       children are developing appropriate social skills and their behaviour is good.

       Further evaluation of pastoral care and child protection is contained in Part 1 of this
       report, Additional Challenges: Pastoral Care and Child Protection

                                                                         The Chief Inspector’s Report 2004-06
    Pre-School Education

    How good are the learning and teaching?

    154.      The quality of the teaching is good or very good in an increasing proportion of
              pre-school centres, with important shortcomings noted in only a small number.
              Particular strengths include the staff’s understanding of the needs of individual
              children and their ability to build on the children’s own ideas and skills to develop a
              wide range of learning during play. The staff’s sustained, skilled and sensitive
              involvement with the children is a key feature of the most effective practice. Where
              there are shortcomings, the staff often limit the children’s choice and/or creativity by
              directing activities too much. They ask too many closed questions that do not
              develop thinking or talking.

    155.      Although planning and assessment methods continue to improve, some shortcomings
              remain in both areas. Most progress has been made in raising the quality of the
              staff’s assessment of learning which is now good or very good in over one-third of
              centres. A major area for improvement is the better linking of curriculum planning and
              assessment information to support and challenge individual children and to guide the
              staff’s efforts in promoting good progress in learning throughout the year.

6   What standards are achieved?

    156.      The overall standards of educational provision have risen over the two years of this
              report and they are now satisfactory or better in almost all centres. In well over half,
              the provision and the children’s achievements are good or very good. The outcomes
              continue to be best for children’s language and personal, social and emotional
              development. In nearly 75% of all centres, the children show a good level of
              independence and responsibility in selecting and using resources, and in looking after
              themselves and the equipment. Although increasing numbers of children have only
              limited skills in talking and listening when they first start to attend pre-school, in most
              cases they make appropriate progress in developing their language. Pre-school staff
              generally do well in developing the children’s interest in books and stories but do not
              give enough attention to helping them become aware of rhyme and rhythm.

    157.      In a higher proportion of centres than previously, early ideas of science and
              technology are developed to a satisfactory or better standard. There are increased
              opportunities for the children to take part in interesting activities that encourage them
              to explore and ask questions.
158.   Provision for physical development has improved slowly overall and is good or very
       good in 40% of centres. It is significantly better in statutory centres than in
       voluntary/private centres, due in part to the more favourable accommodation and
       resources available in nursery schools and classes. More centres now provide daily
       opportunities for energetic activities and make good use of outdoor areas.

159.   During the two years of this report, some funding from DE was made available to the
       voluntary/private sector for the development of outdoor play areas and a number of
       centres were also proactive in acquiring funding for this purpose from a variety of
       other sources. The investment has improved the range and quality of outdoor play
       experiences but further action is needed to ensure that all children have access to
       appropriate spaces both indoors and outdoors for energetic activity. Staff need to do
       more to plan for, and develop systematically, the children’s physical skills and to
       encourage them to participate in, and enjoy, energetic play. This area of the pre-
       school curriculum is of increasing importance in helping to fulfil the aims of the Fit
       Futures policy.

160.   The standards of early mathematical learning and of creativity have changed little.
       Although rarely less than satisfactory, these areas of the pre-school curriculum need
       further attention to increase the proportion of centres making very good provision,           7
       particularly in the arts. Music-making needs to be given a higher priority with better
       provision for children to take part in well-planned activities.

161.   Over the period of this report, there has been limited improvement in the provision of
       equipment for information and communication technology (ICT) within the pre-school
       sector. Some voluntary/private pre-school centres have received funding from DE to
       purchase ICT equipment and there are increasing, but still isolated, examples of its
       effective use for learning. Although nursery schools are not included in C2k, there is
       evidence of better resources and use of ICT across the statutory sector. Unless
       provided from individual budgets, nursery schools do not have access to e-mail or
       Internet services. Increasingly, DE and ELBs are providing essential information, or
       making services available, on-line and do not take into account the lack of resources
       in these schools. The limited equipment and on-line facilities in the pre-school sector
       generally, restrict opportunities for the staff to use training materials, to access
       information, or to share ideas and gain support through links between centres.

                                                              The Chief Inspector’s Report 2004-06
    Pre-School Education

    What is the quality of the provision made for special educational

    162.        A survey2 carried out by the Inspectorate during 2005-2006 highlights the high level of
                commitment among pre-school staff generally to meeting the special educational
                needs of young children and making them feel valued, regardless of their stages of

    163.        The quality of provision is improving in the statutory sector, with good or very good
                practice in over 60% of centres. This improvement is not seen in centres in the
                voluntary/private sector with under 20% providing a similar quality and nearly 30%
                having important shortcomings in special educational needs provision.
                Voluntary/private centres need better resources, support and access to specialist
                services and training, including ELBs’ educational psychology services, to improve
                significantly the quality of special educational needs provision. Although the statutory
                nurseries overall make better provision for special educational needs, there remain
                areas for improvement in over one-third of those inspected.

    164.        The range of different agencies and organisations across health, social services and
8               education involved in pre-school special educational needs provision, particularly in
                the voluntary/private sector, have each developed procedures and services according
                to their own priorities and available funding sources. There has been insufficient
                action to develop a coherent policy for the pre-school sector as a whole, and
                inadequate strategic planning or development of inter-agency collaboration. There
                are major inconsistencies between statutory and voluntary/private sectors in the
                levels of funding, training and expert support available. For children with special
                educational needs within pre-school education, gaining access to the appropriate
                diagnosis and support at an early stage remains too much of a lottery.

    165.        It is timely that DE has embarked on a review of special education and inclusion in
                order to develop a comprehensive, costed policy. This review will take account of the
                particular issues affecting the early years, including the need for multi-disciplinary
                working. There is also potential within some elements of the new CYPFP to improve

        The Best for all Our Children: Special Educational Needs in the Pre-School Sector, 2005-2006.
       pre-school special educational needs provision. DE needs to ensure that these
       initiatives result in early action to address the shortcomings highlighted in this report,
       and in the previous Chief Inspector’s Report, and to raise the quality of provision,
       particularly for those children attending voluntary/private centres.

How good are leadership and management?

166.   The revised model of inspection places a greater emphasis on the quality of
       leadership and management and on the centres’ capacity to bring about
       improvement. The overall quality of leadership and management remains good or
       very good in over half of all centres but there is a slight increase in the proportion
       with important shortcomings. Although many more centres are now making progress
       in self-evaluation leading to improvement, this area needs further development. In a
       significant minority of centres, more so in the statutory than in the voluntary/private
       sector, the staff have made a good start to self-evaluation. In a minority, they have
       developed effective procedures leading to clear improvements and have made good
       use of resources including “Together Towards Improvement - Pre-school Education”.
       School development plans (SDPs) are of a good or very good quality in around half
       of the nursery schools and classes. Where there are shortcomings, often the
       priorities identified by the inspection are not reflected adequately in the SDP.                9

                                                                The Chief Inspector’s Report 2004-06

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